By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
In front of 74.340 fans at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Phil Booth lived what will always be one of the best nights of his life. Coming off the bench with 20 points in the pocket, and hitting two crucial free throws late in the game, he was coming off a screen in the right corner to receive the last possession.
However, Ryan Arcidiacono didn’t have enough time to think about it, as North Carolina was already thinking OT with 4.7 seconds left and a baseline in-bound in the NCAA National Championship Game. The MVP of that night gave it to Kris Jenkins, who banked it in for a shower of confetti.
Two years later, Phil Booth did it again, winning the third-ever title in the history of the Villanova Wildcats, and went on to establish himself as a college legend, breaking the all-time school record with 148 official games played.
Dragging some injuries on his back from a five-year college experience, he went undrafted in 2019, joining the Cleveland Cavaliers and then living G-League experiences with the Washington Wizards‘ affiliate team Capital City Go-Go and later on for the Oklahoma City Blue.
Europe was waiting for him, and after joining Filou Oostende in the 2021-22 Basketball Champions League, he moved to Buducnost and the EuroCup the following season. After a short Turkish parenthesis with Petkim Spor, he now talked to Eurohoops to comment on an exciting start with SIG Strasbourg.
Adjusting to a new system in France
Signing with SIG Strasbourg in the summer, he found himself among the technical leaders of Massimo Cancellieri’s locker room alongside two outside teammates like Quinton Hooker and Chaundee Brown Jr. “I feel good about us right now, we’re getting the new guys that used to play with us. We lost Leo [Cavaliere], of course. Paul [Lacombe] is just getting back. He was hurt for a few games”, he commented on two of his French teammates, while Hugo Invernizzi has been there since day one.
Leo Cavaliere, more particularly, broke his right knee meniscus and will need at least three months of recovery time, forcing the whole team to play without an essential asset. “We had a couple of big games in a row, so we’re trying to keep it going. I feel good about the team and how we’re playing a little bit better and practicing better. So I think we’re coming to a good stretch right now”, Phil Booth added.
Beating Le Portel in the latest LNB matchup, the French team now stands in 12th place with a 5-7 record and will need to climb it up in order to avoid playing once again BCL Qualifiers, which they won by heading past Obradoiro in the final. Talking about the domestic league, Phil Booth praised the competitiveness of it. “Anybody could be anybody. I think it’s so much talent, top to bottom. No game is easy in the league. Monaco lost some weeks ago to Nancy. It happens and there’s so much young talent coming up too, guys that are young that still haven’t got their chance yet”, he said.
The presence of EuroLeague forces, moreover, is crucial to get something out of one team’s extra effort. “The competition is so high every game, so competitive. Guys go up against teams like ASVEL and Monaco and really want to win and really give their all. It’s tough to compete because these guys are athletic everywhere. Guys can score on everybody’s team, guys can really shoot it. Every team has enough. So winning those games comes down to the little things to be honest, because everybody else can score. It’s it’s going to be pretty balanced going forward. Guys are going to compete to get to the top”, Phil Booth commented on the LNB.
SIG Strasbourg’s Basketball Champions League campaign started off with a tough win in Germany, being forced to OT by Oldenburg and finally beating the yellow-and-black team 85-83, as Phil Booth contributed with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. “Oldenburg plays hard and defends really well. They play with a lot of energy. Very athletic team too. I think they cover the floor really well and they never stop competing. They’re a tough team. They press full court for 40 minutes”, he said about them.
Same color but different feelings in the home clash against Filou Oostende won 81-68 thanks to his 22 points and 5 assists. “Oostende plays the right way and moves the ball. They all seem to be on the same page on both ends of the floor with my good coach Dario [Gjergja]. I loved growing up with him in my first year. They’re a good team to play and on the road against them is going to be a tough game. They just had a big win against Oldenburg, so they’re going well. We’ll see how that goes”, he commented about his former team.
To go up 3-0 and lead Group E, however, a win against the Turkish opponents was needed, and Strasbourg got the job done handing Pinar Karsiyaka the 15-point (80-65) defeat. “You’re playing a very experienced and super-talented team in Pinar Karsiyaka. They shoot the ball great in almost every position. They’re a super-experienced team. They know how to play the right way. So they’re a tough team to play. We play them next week, it’s going to be a tough game”, he added after dropping 16 points on Errick McCollum and his teammates.
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) October 31, 2023
Wildcat once, Wildcat for life
Being a legend in the NCAA doesn’t necessarily translate into being successful overseas as well, as these are two completely different worlds. “We’re talking about professionals here. In college, everybody’s in the 18 to 22 range, kind of the same age as you. Here guys are experienced. They know how to play the game at a high level. They’re smarter. It’s a different style and you have to be adjusted to the mind of the game, to the mentality when coming to Europe and just every possession counts. You know guys aren’t making the same mistakes that they made in college. You must change your game to fit the team you’re on and whatever team needs your role to be or learn to Europe. Accept it and take it”, he shared.
Among the teammates he had in his first season with Villanova, the 27-year-old point guard shared the court with Dylan Ennis as well before the Canadian moved to the Oregon Ducks. “I’ve talked to Dylan [Ennis] since my first year over in Europe. We’ve had back and forth through messages since I’ve been here. I also saw him this summer at a wedding, and I played against him last year in Turkey when he was at Galatasaray. He’s been very successful in Europe, he’s done really well over here. I always like to talk to the guys because everybody’s experience in Europe is different. Seeing which wisdom they can give to me, share with me being older and having played many more years than I have. It’s just great to pick their brain”, he commented on the current UCAM Murcia’s guard and other veterans.
Among his five-year teammates, however, established NBA figures come to mind. Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, and Josh Hart, for example, all played in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Talking about Team USA’s fiasco, Phil Booth believes they may need more preparation. “It’s definitely a different style than the NBA. So I think they probably need more scrimmages against European competition before the real game starts so they can get accustomed to it. It’s an adjustment”, he first commented.
Going on to talk about the difficulties the United States experienced at the International level, he emphasized the fact of being and playing together. “The coaches know, but the guys that are playing have to experience and go through it. In Europe the competition is great, receiving love right now. A lot of European guys are playing in the NBA, they’re experienced”, the point guard said.
“Germany has been basically the same team that has been playing together for the last three or four summers. They know how to play together. While Team USA is like a brand-new random team of guys that don’t play with each other. So it’s an adjustment. I think they’re learning that and figuring that out and they’ll probably make some changes going forward”, Phil Booth finally added.
Talking about changes, since the possibility of him being for Team USA is close to zero, the current SIG Strasbourg’s guard doesn’t rule out playing for another national team like some of his colleagues. “Actually I’ve never given thought to it. I’m kind of new to that. I’ve seen guys that have done it, that got the citizenship and have gone through with it. I never really took too much thought into it. Maybe there’ll be a day we will see, but I’ve never really given too much thought”, he concluded.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League